(giving the child solid food)
This is the ceremony for the first feeding of cooked rice. Imagine its being performed at the time of one’s Upanayana or marriage! The object of this karma is to pray to the gods with Vedic mantras to bless the child with good digestive powers, good thoughts and talent.
Literally 'putting solid food or rice into a child's mouth for the first time'. Anna means 'food', especially 'boiled rice'. Prashana means 'eating, feeding', and specifically 'the first feeding of a child'. The ceremony ritualizes the start of a nursing child's additional solid nourishment from the age of six or seven months. This sanskara developed out of the physical need of the child for more nourishment. It also established a point in the child's development at which the mother should consider beginning to wean him.
After a muhurta has been selected for the ceremony, friends and relatives are invited. Food is cooked to the chanting of appropriate Vedic mantras. The father feeds the child as the priest recites the Maha vyahritis. The child is then placed on kusha grass before the fire. Next, the father offers oblations to Agni praying that the child should be strong and well spoken. He also prays for a long, happy and contented life, for fame, and for a broad vision for the child.
After this, according to the Markandeya Purana, the child is placed amongst tools and articles used in various crafts and occupations. It is believed that the article that he touches first decides his future occupation.
When this has been done, the Brahmins invited for the occasion and relatives are fed food specially cooked for the occasion. The Brahmins are also given gifts.
According to the Grihyasutras , Annaprashana should be performed when the child is between six and seven months old. For a weak child, it can be postponed further. However it should not be performed before the child is four months old because he will not be able to digest food before then. Nor should the ceremony be performed after he is a year old because delaying additional nourishment could retard the child's natural growth and development. Some people believe that it should be performed after the child's first teeth come out as this is a sure sign that he will be able to digest solid food.
It is performed when the child is about six months old which is the weaning time. Susruta commends this weaning time as best for both the mother and the child. Offerings are made to the goddess of Speech and Vig-our. Then it is prayed that the child’s senses have their full gratification to live a happy and contented life.The father feeds a little of sweet-food anointed with gold, to the child, uttering that he feeds it with thirthas and herbs which may ensure a healthy life to the child and prevent ill-health.
According to Sushruta, the food given to the child during Annaprashana should be easy to digest. He should be fed different foods with different flavors. Some suggest a mixture of honey, yogurt, and ghee. Others recommend meat. The meat of every animal and bird is believed to have a different quality, which is imparted to the child. For example, fish is believed to give swiftness. The Markandeya Purana recommends milk, rice, ghee and honey.
The concept of Annaprashana existed among the Aryans before they came to India. This view is supported by the presence of a similar ceremony among the Parsis. It became a religious ritual by the time of the Sutras.
At the close of the function, different articles are spread before the child. That which he touches first will, it is said, interest him most in later life.
Apart from the efficacy or otherwise of this ceremony, its observance creates in all concerned an awareness of the cumulative needs of the child at that age, in a scientific and tender manner. Its systematic observance therefore will in all likelihood ensure the result expected especially when fortified by mantras.